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WoWSep 4, 2020 10:00 am CT

What’s happening to Nathanos Blightcaller in Shadowlands?

Say what you will about him, there is one truth we can all agree with: Nathanos Blightcaller is one of the most controversial figures in World of Warcraft. It would be fair to say that the vast majority of WoW players falls into one of these four categories: those who love him, those who hate him, those who love to hate him, and those who hate to love him. And the same applies to his beloved master, Sylvanas, as well as the plague-happy faction within the Forsaken (which, let’s remind ourselves, is not all of them).

This is a subject that absolutely fascinates me: I’ve been on both sides of this debate, in different times, and I have changed my mind about it on more than one occasion. Finding a satisfactory solution to the Sylvanas-Nathanos-Forsaken arc that would please all of those groups is a task that would make Sisyphus himself nod his head in sympathy. Yet that’s exactly the Gordian Knot that the writing team has to untie in Shadowlands.

However, Nathanos may not be as tightly tied to Sylvanas as it may seem. There have been several key story moments in the recent past — both before and during Battle for Azeroth — where he demonstrated surprise over her actions, and hesitation over obeying her orders — even if fleeting.

Still, even though the Banshee Queen might not confide everything to her loyal aid, there is no other person on Azeroth or beyond — not even her sisters — who knows more about Sylvanas, save for Sylvanas herself. Even though he might have his moments of unease, his loyalty, bred from love, is unwavering.

WARNING: there will be spoilers for the Shadowlands expansion in this post.

What happened to Nathanos during the Before the Storm novel?

In this book, Nathanos warned Sylvanas that some of the Forsaken were dissatisfied with her leadership ever since she became Warchief of the (whole) Horde — they were afraid that their queen would no longer defend and protect her people as fully as before, since her duties now extended to a much larger population.

Fearing that she might be losing their loyalty, Nathanos advised Sylvanas to use a peaceful meeting — held by the Desolate Council to honor the Forsaken that fell in battle against the Legion — as an opportunity to motivate the Forsaken to seek revenge against the living.

During the encounter, some of the Forsaken demonstrated that they were, in fact, willing to abandon their unlives under the banner of the Banshee Queen, in hopes of reuniting with their living relatives. Sylvanas was not pleased with this development, and Nathanos demonstrated real shock at her ruthlessness as she ordered a number of the Forsaken who had attended the meeting to be executed.

In Battle for Azeroth, the cracks started to show

Nathanos visibly hesitated — for a brief second — when he was ordered by Sylvanas to burn down Teldrassil. But he complied and never showed any regret. One could assume that, even though she surprises him, his mind is quick to adapt to the new circumstances, whatever they might be: his devotion to her is stronger than anything else.

Later, as the Night Elves attempted to retake Darkshore, Nathanos fought against Tyrande and Malfurion at Darkshore, helped by the Val’kyr. He was there as they raised Sira and Delaryn as Forsaken. Mighty as he is, he was no match for Tyrande’s ruthless new persona, the Night Warrior — but he was able to escape, thanks to the sacrifice of one of Sylvanas’s last remaining Val’kyr, Brynja.

He served as the interface between Sylvanas and her loyalists within the Horde, directing them to obey her orders. It could be argued that this was the most testing moment for him: he knew that a revolution was brewing within the Horde, hoping to root Sylvanas out from it. But once again, Nathanos Blightcaller demonstrated unshakable adherence to the Banshee Queen’s dogma. He patiently watched Saurfang’s plot against them, and he personally executed Thomas Zelling, who had helped Baine deliver Derek Proudmoore to the Alliance.

Nathanos was surprised when Azshara opened the seas to attract the Horde and Alliance — unlike Sylvanas, who seemed to be expecting that event. This implies that he was not privy to all of her grand schemes. Yet after the fated Mak’gora at the gates of Orgrimmar, when their position within the Horde was irreversibly lost, his last act was to bid Sylvanas farewell, while professing his love for her. A scene that heavily symbolized that this would be the last time they would be together — at least in that form.

Nathanos’s fate comes in the events prior to the release of Shadowlands

In the Shadows Rising novel, Nathanos and Sira Moonwarden are given a mission by Sylvanas to find and kill Bwonsamdi. Their opposition, fighting to protect the Loa of Death? None other than their former Horde allies, Princess Talanji, and Zekhan (aka “Zappyboi”).

There seems to be a true standoff when it comes to the forces of Death: known figures like Sylvanas and Bwonsamdi, and relative newcomers such as the Arbiter, the Jailer, and another Loa of Death, Mueh’zala. It’s difficult to know for now who is on whose side — or who is plotting whose demise. All we know is that Nathanos plays some part in Sylvanas’s dangerous gambit against the loa which rose to prominence during Battle for Azeroth, and who is still bound to Talanji, a key figure of the new Horde.

And then comes the events that happen in patch 9.0, prior to the release of Shadowlands. We will track down Nathanos to his original home — Marris Stead, in Eastern Plaguelands — which is a very interesting callback to the very first time we faced the character in Vanilla. Blightcaller used to be a world boss in Marris Stead, accompanied by his faithful hounds, still using the default Forsaken model, and being a hunter before Forsaken hunters were even playable.

And there, we will fight him, seemingly as a world boss. As if there was still any doubt about this, he’s openly an enemy of both the Alliance and the Horde, berating both groups during his speech. But the fight against him stops before he reaches 0% health, and a yet-unknown cutscene plays to end the encounter. While the events in the cinematic are still unknown, we do know that Nathanos does, indeed, meet his end during the fight at Marris Stead — and the one to deliver the killing blow to him is none other than Tyrande Whisperwind, as elucidated by the dialogue that happens after the deed is done.

In the Alliance version of the events, Genn Greymane laments that he wasn’t there to fight him, but openly states that Tyrande, consumed by the power of the Night Warrior, was the one to end Nathanos Blightcaller’s unlife — though, according to Genn, it did little to sate her thirst for revenge. However, he does state that one of the people responsible for the Fourth War has been brought to justice.

Will we see conflict between Sylvanas and Nathanos in Shadowlands?

Sometimes, the dead don’t stay dead. And we are about to embark into an expansion that takes place in the actual afterlife. Could Nathanos somehow still be present in the expansion, even after the fateful encounter at the Eastern Plaguelands? It’s hard to say, at this point; but I’m willing to bet the answer is no, and that the writers are trying to wrap up this particular story branch.

Regardless of that: during Battle for Azeroth, Blizzard has decidedly transformed Sylvanas and Nathanos into villains. Some would argue that they had always been villains, while others would call them anti-heroes, with Sylvanas herself being a victim, first and foremost. Whatever was your side on this, few would argue that their story wasn’t sprawling and convoluted enough to allow for multiple valid interpretations.

But BFA made those characters’ actions far less subtle, prone to fewer and fewer readings. And Shadowlands, from its very first cinematic, seems to move things even further in that direction. Whether you approve of it or not, the truth is that Sylvanas has been pinned as the main antagonist in World of Warcraft at the moment. Some of her fans still hope beyond hope that the character will find redemption in the end, while others are tired of being the targets of crime after crime committed by her, and never seeing any comeuppance — quite the opposite, as even her losses and failures are often presented as “part of an even bigger plan.”

It is truly a tricky situation: she is an extremely popular character, loved as much as she is hated — Nathanos is just a reflection of that. But if we know how the WoW team tells stories, we can safely infer that the time has come for Sylvanas to reveal her masterplan, and for the heroes of Azeroth to feel motivated to stop her. And I do think that Nathanos will be dealt with before she is. I don’t know what her ultimate fate will be — what I know is that, regardless of what it is, many people will be overjoyed, and many other people will be crushed.

Blizzard wrote themselves into a corner with this story and these characters, for certain. But I feel like they want to — and have to — make a decision, and go along with it. They have beaten around the bush with Sylvanas, Nathanos, and the Forsaken as a whole for too long, and it’s time to move on into new territory — for better or for worse.

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